Jack McDuff - organ; Willie Smith - alto sax; David Young - tenor sax; Bill Cody - tenor sax; Joe Lovano - baritone sax; Eric Johnson - guitar; Joe Dukes - drums
In the pantheon of Hammond B-3 players, Jack McDuff might be the bluesiest. While Jimmy Smith is generally regarded as the undisputed champ of that hulking 350-pound beast for bringing that unwieldy instrument into the bebop realm, McDuff steadfastly clung to earthier realms over the course of his road warrior career. A noted talent scout with a keen eye for guitarists - Grant Green, George Benson, Pat Martino, Marc Ribot, Dave Stryker, Henry Johnson, Mark Whitfield and Gregg Skaff all passed through the ranks of his bands since the '60s - McDuff toured the chitlin' circuit with his B-3 towed behind his El Dorado Cadillac. For this Carnegie Hall gig, impresario George Wein probably paid for the cartage fee for his organ. Performing material from his recent Cadet Records release at the time, Magnetic Feel, McDuff and his horn-laden crew (including a 22-year-old Joe Lovano on baritone saxophone) commandeered the Carnegie stage with equal parts funk, jazz and blues.
They open with a soulful stroll through "Killer Joe," the Benny Golson tune introduced in 1960 by the Jazztet and subsequently covered by innumerable jazz artists over the years from Quincy Jones to Tito Puente to Lionel Hampton. This loping blues segues suddenly into a throbbing James Brown-inspired funk vamp, "The Heatin' System," which showcases veteran Indiana tenor saxophonist David Young and guitarist Eric Johnson. "Goin' Home" is a gospel-tinged meditation on the blues that showcases alto saxophonist Willie Smith and guitarist Johnson. Wham!" is a signature McDuff uptempo burner featuring some fretboard pyrotechnics by Johnson and all-out B-3 sizzle by McDuff. For a change of pace, McDuff and his crew close out the set with the gorgeous Billy Eckstine ballad, "I Want to Talk About You," a tender tune made famous in jazz circles by John Coltrane's instrumental version and which here features Young stretching out on soprano sax in a stirring and extended cadenza.
Born Eugene McDuffy on September 17, 1926 in Champaign, Illinois, McDuff began his career as a bassist playing with Denny Zeitlin and Joe Farrell. He taught himself how to play organ and piano in the mid-'50s and came to prominence in the late '50s with soul-jazz icon Willis Gatortail Jackson. His debut for the Prestige label, Brother Jack, became a hit on the strength of the single "Rock Candy," which became a standard part of the B-3 repertoire. By the mid-'60s, after hiring the young guitar sensation George Benson, McDuff's combo became one of the most popular on the organ group circuit. He later recorded for the Blue Note label during the '70s. After a down period when organ groups fell out of favor, McDuff was part of an organ group renaissance during the '80s and '90s, recording acclaimed albums for the Muse and Concord labels. In his later years, he recorded again with his protégé Benson and with young organ disciple Joey DeFrancesco. McDuff died at the age of 74 at his home in Minneapolis on January 23, 2001. (Bill Milkowski)